Tags: FCC | Internet | Kevin J. Martin | Net Neutrality | ROW | Title II

Should We Give Obama Control Over the Internet?

By Wednesday, 04 February 2015 04:12 PM Current | Bio | Archive

After months of prodding by President Obama, on Feb. 5, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler will release proposed new rules that are expected to invoke the Title II provision of the 81-year-old Communications Act of 1934, reclassifying broadband Internet service as a telecommunications service, instead of an information service.

This would designate Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as common carriers and the Internet as essentially a public utility, just like Ye Olde landline phone service.

Treating the Internet as a telecom service under Title II reinforces the concept of what’s called “Net Neutrality” or the open Internet. It goes back to the language of Title II, which prohibits “unjust or unreasonable discrimination” in providing phone services, and would now do the same for broadband Internet.

The good aspects of this? It would prevent the willy-nilly blocking of content by both mobile carriers and ISPs over cable, fiber optic and copper DSL lines, and would prevent paid prioritization — pay-to-play fast lanes — of websites and services with deep pockets, thus leveling the playing field for poor Internet start-ups, not to mention bringing a sigh of relief to bandwidth-intensive companies such as Netflix — which might otherwise have gone back to mailing DVDs.

Placing broadband under Title II governance would also impose more regulatory scrutiny, something that gives the shivers to cable and telecom providers. Former FCC Chairman Michael Powell, now CEO of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) famously said at the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo 2013, he believes in viability of “usage based” models and that any attempts to reclassify broadband as a Title II common carrier service would in effect be asking for “World War III.”

Cynics and conspiracy theorists would say, however, that since President Obama and others have said (as quoted in the Wall Street Journal) that they do not want the FCC setting pricing for interconnection fees — and thus pricing to customers — in the short-term the cable and telecom titans will jack up their bills to consumers, until the FCC is goaded into acting again.

For another perspective, I solicited some comments from engineer, MIT grad and communications entrepreneur Brough Turner, founder and CTO of netBlazr Inc.
Turner says, “Title II is a work around, that may or may not work, for an underlying problem that few really understand. Of course it's the only tool the FCC has at this point.”
Fixing the underlying problem would take actions quite a bit more sophisticated than simply slapping a Title II designation on broadband.

As Turner sees it, “The right-of-way (ROW) is a ‘natural monopoly’ (in the economist's sense). Whether it’s owned by the city, state or a homeowners’ association, there is only one ROW to reach most buildings. So it’s reasonable the use of that ROW be regulated by cities and/or states. Unfortunately, after plausibly giving ROW access to cable companies and phone companies, we’ve then allowed them to vertically integrate services which are not natural monopolies on top of their natural monopoly franchises.

“Note that, with the Internet backbone, where there are multiple paths between cities and vibrant competition (e.g. Level 3, Lightower, XO, Cogent, Hurricane Electric, etc., as well as AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, etc.) peering works well and diverse services are available at very low prices. Former FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin’s stated belief in a problem with residential streaming is strictly a result of broken U.S. access network policy. Since, as a society, we're not discussing the real problem (vertical integration) or possible solutions to that problem (like structural or functional separation of services from the underlying networks), the outcome of any FCC imposed regulation is questionable.”

On Feb. 26, the FCC will vote on the Title II proposal. Perhaps, as Michael Powell says, a kind of battleground will soon exist encompassing the FCC and major cable and telecom providers. Perhaps it will lead to more taxes, regulation, government scrutiny, and have a chilling effect on investment in the telecom infrastructure. Then again, perhaps not.
Stay tuned. With proverbial baited breath, we all must wait for the dust to settle on this one.

Richard Grigonis is an internationally known technology editor and writer. He was executive editor of Technology Management Corporation’s IP Communications Group of magazines from 2006 to 2009. The author of five books on computers and telecom, including the highly influential Computer Telephony Encyclopedia (2000), he was the chief technical editor of Harry Newton's Computer Telephony magazine (later retitled Communications Convergence after its acquisition by Miller Freeman/CMP Media) from its first year of operation in 1994 until 2003. Read more reports from Richard Grigonis — Click Here Now.


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Treating the Internet as a telecom service under Title II reinforces the concept of what’s called “Net Neutrality” or the open Internet.
FCC, Internet, Kevin J. Martin, Net Neutrality, ROW, Title II
Wednesday, 04 February 2015 04:12 PM
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